Mark Lopez lives in Manila and is a graduate from the prestigious University of Santo Tomas. His online writing recent caught global attention when he penned an open letter to the US Congress slamming American politicians who criticise Philippines for supposed ‘human rights infractions’ without full knowledge of the real human rights disaster caused by drug use and the crime wave caused by the narcotics trade.
His open letter has gone viral throughout social media and many news outlets covering the politics of Philippines.
The Duran recently asked Mark Lopez about his views on the Presidency of Rodrigo Duterte following his State of the Nation address in which Duterte affirmed his positions on fighting drugs, terrorism and poverty, as well as his commitment to asserting Philippine sovereignty over all of its political and social policy making issues.
AG: Mark, you recently wrote an open letter to the US Congress with particular attention focused on the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission which has been critical of President Duterte’s commitment to ending the drug and crime problem in Philippines.
What motivated you to write this letter? Do you consider yourself to be an activist or just a concearned citizen?
ML: First and foremost, I am a citizen and I actually reside here in suburban Manila where I am a personal witness to how substance abuse was left unchecked and proliferated and has destroyed families. I actually have seen how my neighborhood friends and even my own relatives became drug addicts, which led them to commit petty crimes in the beginning, then gradually becoming hardened criminals. In that sense I wrote that letter being a very concerned Filipino because I have seen the worst of drug abuse, and this is the only administration who really has shown a tremendous amount of political will in finally confronting what we all believe is a serious menace to society.
AG: In your letter you spoke of how the age of social media has allowed people in Philippines to speak about the realities of their country and counteract the colonial attitudes of the American mainstream media. Do you think a political movement like the one led by President Duterte would have been possible in a pre-internet age?
ML: Social media has radically changed the way mass communication is now played, especially in the formation of opinion and points of view. It is a game changer, and it has created a seismic shift in how people now digest and process the news and information. Most importantly it has actually empowered the ordinary citizen himself into becoming an instant newsmaker, or a journalist in the broadest sense. As with what we have been discussing with my fellow socmed bloggers, if Duterte were elected prior to the advent of Facebook and Twitter, he would have probably met the same fate as Muammar Gadaffi and Saddam Hussein, or Manuel Noriega.
AG: Why is it that many American and European politicians think they can tell the people of Philippines how to run their country. President Duterte won a fair democratic election but many in the west want to interfere with democracy in Philippines. Do you think this is the real scandal?
MK: The problem with western politicians professing disapproval with our duly elected president (whose recent approval poll topped 82%) is that they are guided by misleading information coming from entities which probably have vested interests, and these interests run counter with the platform of governance and direction of our current administration.
AG: If you could describe the horrors of the drug problem in Philippines in a short paragraph, what would you say?
ML: There are about 4 million Filipinos who have had involvement in narcotics either as user or pusher. The end result of a grown menace is the accompanying rise in crime and destruction of families.
AG: President Duterte has used his first year in office to develop historically good relations with both China and Russia. Do you think that this will help Philippines break away from the post-colonial American political orbit?
ML: The emphasis of our president is more on an INDEPENDENT foreign policy, in which our country fosters its self determination and harness its strategic position in the global community by being collaborative and cooperative with all nations.
AG: What are your thoughts on Donald Trump? When he spoke to President Duterte over the phone, he praised the war on drugs and said that Duterte was doing a good job. Do you think that Trump is a different kind of politician than those in the US Congress who are insulting Philippines?
ML: I actually predicted Trump would win over Hillary. The moment he obtained the nomination, what I saw with the American voting public is perhaps the same sentiment that we who voted for Duterte felt. It was a rage and a rejection against the status quo. I believe it was not so much about Trump, or in our case Duterte, but more of our desire to achieve change. Personally I believe Trump and his team got the nod because he was cognisant and fully exploited that rage of middle America to his advantage. In that sense, he will be a most effective leader.
AG: If you were invited to speak before the US Congress would you go?
ML: I do not think I have the credentials to speak before Congress of the United States. I am just an ordinary Filipino.
AG: Do you support President Duterte’s marital law initiative which was put in place in Mindanao to combat terrorism?
ML: Yes I fully support Martial Law in Mindanao. It is a constitutional tool that enables the executive to be better equipped in suppressing rebellion or terrorism.
AG: Has President Duterte made history even though he’s only now been in power for a little over a year?
ML: Definitely. He is the only president in the last 50 years of our political history who has a huge mandate, and was duly elected despite being a political outsider or hillbilly and a maverick. Plus, this is the only Filipino president who caught global attention because of his non-conformist stance that shook Superpowers into recalibrating and re-aligning their positions.
AG: What advice would you personally have for those who think drugs are somehow not a problem?
ML: Those who think drugs are somehow not a problem are probably into drugs themselves. If they don’t stop, drugs will kill them. It’s a sure bet.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.